Covid-19: NI falls silent to remember deaths

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media captionHospital staff take a moment to reflect on the past year

People in Northern Ireland have been remembering those who died during the pandemic on the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown.

It comes as the Department of Health recorded another two Covid-19-related deaths, bringing its total to 2,107.

A minute's silence was held across the UK as part of the national day of reflection.

Proceedings at the Northern Ireland Assembly paused for assembly members to observe the silence.

Staff at Antrim Area Hospital gathered outside the building at midday to mark the first introduction of restrictions and to remember those who have lost their lives in the past 12 months.

People stood at their doorsteps at 20:00 GMT with phones, candles and torches to signify a "beacon of remembrance".

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image captionHolly Wilson, whose grandmother Ada Wilson passed away during the pandemic, lights a candle in St Anne's Cathedral

The floor of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast was covered in 2,100 candles in memory of those who have died in the past year.

The remembrance event was organised in partnership with end-of-life charity Marie Curie, and was attended by relatives of the deceased.

The Titanic Belfast visitor centre and Belfast City Hall were also lit up to mark one-year of the pandemic.

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image captionBelfast City Hall was illuminated on Tuesday in remembrance of those who have died from Covid-19 in the past year
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image captionOn Tuesday the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction was lit up in remembrance
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image captionProceedings at the NI Assembly were paused
image captionStaff gathered outside Antrim Area Hospital at midday to take part in the minute's silence

Speaking in the assembly, Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann acknowledged that "life had changed immeasurably" for everyone over the past year.

"It is my sincerest hope that we can now move along the pathway to a new normal as soon as possible," he said.

"Short dreary winter days in lockdown combined to make poor companions."

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew told the assembly that contact-tracing services should be scaled up as lockdown measures are relaxed.

Mr Gildernew, who heads the health committee at Stormont, said he had met officials to discuss the issue recently.

"As we see further restrictions being lifted the risk of increased contact at work or between households could lead to further outbreaks, clusters and surges.

"I am very disappointed to note the latest figures for the contact-tracing complement, with only 46 contact tracers employed on a full-time basis, 100 part-time and 170 on a bank basis."

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image captionOne year on and the streets are still empty

Meanwhile, an online booking system has been launched for Covid-19 vaccines at Belfast's SSE Arena.

The mass vaccination facility, which will have the capacity to vaccinate up to 40,000 people a week, will officially open on Monday 29 March.

Patricia Donnelly, head of the NI vaccination programme, said it was "another significant step forward".

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image captionBrenda Doherty's mother Ruth Burke was one of the first people in Northern Ireland to die with coronavirus

Currently, anyone over the age of 50 and those with some underlying health conditions are eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.

The SSE arena will operate alongside the seven regional vaccination centres run by health trusts across Northern Ireland as well as GP practices.

Community pharmacists will also be able to deliver vaccines from next week.

'Increasing numbers of ineligible people'

It has emerged that hundreds of people from the Republic of Ireland have been turned away from vaccinations centres in Northern Ireland in recent days.

Irish state broadcaster RTÉ says they have travelled from as far away as Dublin and Galway.

Patricia Donnelly told RTÉ: "We are seeing increasing numbers of ineligible people, including people from the Republic of Ireland, trying to book an appointment at one of our vaccination centres.

"But when they turn up at vaccination centres, they find they're turned away because you would need to have a GP in Northern Ireland, have a health and social care number, or otherwise be eligible for health and social care services in Northern Ireland.

"Unfortunately, it's hundreds. We had trickles of individuals really since the start of the programme, but we've noticed in the last week that it's now turning into hundreds, and that would be the case across every single health trust, they're getting hundreds of people booking on to the system.

"Only those who meet the criteria will be vaccinated. If you turn up and are not eligible you will be turned away and you will have wasted staff time in the process."

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